I've been thinking about my relationship to the Bible since being assigned Eugene Peterson's Eat This Book to read for Watershed's Wednesday night study. Paul Patterson, our pastor, invited me to consider this question: "How has this book changed your way of reading the Bible?" More on my book later.
I've always grown up with the Bible being central in my family and church, but I can't say I really read it for myself as a kid. I listened to stories in Sunday School and elementary school. (Yes, they read us a Bible story every morning. That was a different era.) Preachers preached from it every Sunday, but it never occurred to me to read it on my own.
A Living Thing
In junior high, a new edition of the New Testament called "The Living Bible" came out, designed just for kids like me. Being a new paraphrase, the language was modern and fresh, and it had lots of photos of young people. I sat through many church services flipping through this book, studying the pictures and reading the intros to each chapter. It was through this edition, called "Reach Out" and later called "The Way" which included both testaments, that I first had the inkling that the Bible could be relevant to a person's life. The Bible wasn't just something that was preached from every Sunday.
As I grew up, I had several experiences of the Bible being a "living thing", like the high school Bible study group that met each week through our church. I felt loved and cared for there through our very kind leaders Hans and Lorna Boge. I also studied the Bible while attending Mennonite Brethren Bible College in the 80's, and I loved understanding the Bible in a deeper way. In both these places, scripture came alive.
But it wasn't until I experienced failure in later years that I began to embrace the Bible as a lifeline. Separation in my marriage (which wasn't permanent, thank God), and struggles with depression brought me face to face with the reality that I needed something, Someone, to guide me. Failure becomes a gift when it brings a person to the place of dependence, needing to trust in something higher than themselves.
Individualism and "doing it my way" is so rampant in our society that you don't often hear about submitting to something outside yourself. But when doing it your own way just gets you in trouble, you become a seeker, and that's what has happened to me. I began to trust in the Words that come to me through Scripture more than my often faulty ways of thinking.
Sweeter Than Honey
Anyone who reads my blog knows that each week's story is kinda the same – in some way, I've gotten lost and God keeps finding me. There's a famous story about God being like a good shepherd who goes out looking for his lost sheep, and I keep being found like this, week after week.
The book I was given to read is Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading, by Eugene Peterson. Through the fall, I read a chapter each week while exercising on the elliptical machine at the YMCA. When I was done and went to the weight machines, I left the book lying on the floor and often wondered what people thought of the book title's command: "Eat this book". The title is a reference to a passage in the New Testament book of Revelation. The writer of the book, John, is having a vision and he goes up to an angel who is holding a scroll. John wanted to read the scroll and asked for it, but he got a strange answer back. He was told that instead of reading it, he was supposed to take it and eat it. "It will be bitter to your stomach, but sweet as honey in your mouth," the angel told him.
Peterson uses this verse as the basis for his whole book, and like the title suggests, I've been chewing on its meaning for months. Eating something means it's going to enter your bloodstream and your very muscles, giving energy for the day. It's not something that happens merely in the mind or for a momentary taste sensation in the mouth, but in every part of you. It keeps us alive!
As If Your Life Depended On It
As I crack the Bible open each morning during my prayer time before work, I've often asked myself – are these words going to stick, or will they just fall out of my ears the moment the rubber hits the road in the real world? Peterson's book kept nudging me each day in recent months. Are you eating this as if your life depended on it? Most often I have to confess I don't.
There's a verse in the New Testament that comes to mind as I type this morning. "Don't fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don't act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like" – James 1:23-24 (The Message).
As I've been getting ready to present on this book, I've been wondering why so often I'm like that person in the mirror, who walks away and totally forgets what I look like in God's eyes. I forget because I have a mistaken understanding of God. In a way I often come to the reading of scripture hiding my face, thinking I've got to have everything together before I'm accepted. No wonder the words often don't stick. I'm not even listening.
But God isn't someone I need to hide from. Like the best friend imaginable, God always sees through to our essence, in the midst of our messy and muddy lives. We can bring it all to God, trusting that we are not employees before a critical review board, but beloved children.
When I read scripture with a hidden face, it is merely information. I don't eat it at all. It's when this messy life is submitted to hearing a Word from God, often through scripture, that I begin to chew on something that gives me life. I love this quote which Richard Rohr often refers to:
"God comes to us disguised as our life" – Paula D'Arcy.These words remind me that I don't need to have it all together. In fact, when I look back, it's always the mistakes I make which loosen the ground for God to get through to me. It's a miracle really. When I have seen myself as forgiven and beloved, the whole world begins to look this way. Who wouldn't want to eat those words.
Each week, God gives me a feast to chew on. Some words are sweet like honey, bringing words of promise and blessing and consolation. Others are "bitter in the stomach" when they make me uncomfortable with the truths they bring. God's words are sometimes difficult to digest and hard to obey, usually because my ego wants things to be easy. But my experience is that God's words, whether sweet or bitter, always always lead to freedom and hope.
May we all enter this week, bringing every part of our lives honestly to God, waiting to hear what God has to say.